Friday, May 19, 2006

The Picasso Code


Well, it’s finally here. And in just a few days, if you listen closely, you will hear the grinding of teeth from movie exhibitors and distribution companies everywhere, as this film fails to meet its expectations. This is not really surprising, when you think about it. Dan Brown wrote a hit book, and for some reason popular novels do not generally do well on the movie screen. But of course there’s more. Novels by their nature have a sense of the unreal; the reader gets caught up in the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and enters a world created by the author, accepting the stated conditions. But movies present the story as if it really happens, and so the viewer must convince not only his sense of the narrative, but his eyes and ears must also concur to its validity. When something doesn’t jibe, it burrs against the rest of the story and distracts to the point that the viewer dislikes the story.

I am of course writing about 'The DaVinci Code', and no my column title is not a typo. The story by Dan Brown is hardly new, though I will grant that Brown was able to package the lie in an attractive way. You don’t sell millions of copies of a book unless the story is told well, and frankly if Brown, or Ron Howard for that matter, were honest enough to emphasis that this is a work of fiction there would be no issue to mention here. But Brown began with a popular lie, and an old one. Basically, as Christianity began to spread and grow, there was some confusion about the person and nature of Christ Jesus. Not that many people could read, and in those years before printing presses, authentic copies of the Gospel were hard to find. So teachers and preachers sometimes presented their own thoughts on the matters, and sometimes this led to some truly bizarre notions. But the fact remains that the basic tenets of the Church were established within a very short time after the years Christ walked among us, a fact which Brown discarded in order to sell his story.

Brown chose Da Vinci for his rebellious secret-holder, because of Da Vinci’s indisputable brilliance, habits of secrecy and hidden writings (such as his habit of writing backwards, right-to-left, which required a mirror or some ocular dexterity to read), and several noted arguments with the Church. Unfortunately, it was necessary to sell the story by misportraying DaVinci, having him say things he never said and be part of groups he never knew. I called this article the Picasso Code, because when you see a DaVinci painting, you see what the artist saw; in the case of a Picasso, you see things in an artificial construct, knowing it is not real. You accept what you know to be false, and this is the mind-set required to accept Dan Brown’s pretense.

Others have done better than I could at taking apart the claims made by Brown, but I am writing here about the film in specific, and the reasons why it, well, blows. First would be the effective way the Church has addressed the story’s claims. Rather than angrily denounce the story, the Church has made many efforts to discuss the claims and compare them with historical facts, which rather quickly proves Brown to be a poor historian and a bad liar. His claims regarding the Council of Nicea, the status of Arius, the dates of the canonical and heretical Gospel accounts and the character of the same, all quickly prove to be basest falsehoods. As to the claim of Jesus not dying on the cross, and so marrying Mary Magdelene and raising a family, Brown produces not a single piece of evidence to support that myth, except to attempt altering the extant Gospels. And Brown never does explain why anyone would care about a man who had claimed divinity and proved to be just a man; either Jesus was Whom He said He Was, or He was not. Brown makes the fundamental mistake of trying to play it both ways.

Such errors can be overlooked in a book, if one is willing to play along, but in the movie they fail to impress, and all the fevered posturing of Tom Hanks cannot change that.


Cynical Observer said...

I read Brown's book not long after it first came out. I thought it was mildly entertaining, but not nearly as well-written and tightly crafted as many other mystery and action novels I have read. In other words, I was not particularly impressed with the book, regardless of the theological issues it tripped over. I knew that he was just exploiting for profit the theories that had been previously publised as historical facts regarding Christ's person - because I had also read some of these books. There was, in fact, a Christian sect that existed in northern Spain and along the Mediterranean Coast near what is the border between France and Spain that believed the very thesis that Brown made the center theme of his book. So, Brown did not make up this thesis out of clear blue air for malicious purposes; he merely exploited it, as many novelists do with their central themes.

What I find disturbing is the sheer numbers of people who read a novel (which is by definition fictional) and accept it, in whole or in part, as fact. And I similarly find it disturbing that we've become the video generation, accepting movies and video as more real world than truth itself.

It's the latter culture of ignorance that I believe are the real villans of this drama.

Anonymous said...

"Brown made the fundamental mistake..."

A mistake, huh? He sold FORTY MILLION copies in like 30 countries.

Some mistake. By my math it would take you about 30,000 years to get that number of readers to your blog (and you ain't makin' $25 a customer).

I did appreciate your comments on the movie, though. I assume you've somehow seen the movie, since you say "in the movie they fail to impress."

I mean, if you make that comment and you have NOT seen the movie, well, that make you a ..... fraud? Hypocrite? Liar? Goofball?

You are endlessly amusing.

By the way, I've reviewed your post from next Thursday, and it failed to impress.

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha

Mark L said...

Of course Brown's book is not based on mew concepts. His historical research is just going through ancient Gnostic and Arian legends, dusting them off, and presenting them as Truth.

They were not "truth" 2000 years ago (Gnostism actually predates Christianity) any more than they are truth today.

It is obvious why Hollywierd and the liberal establishment has glommed onto da Vicious Code. Those not doing the right thing instinctively try and tear down those that espouse virtues, both as a means of assuaguing their guilt and to make themselves feel superior to those that they realize in the heart of hearts are better than them.

In 50 years the book and movie will be forgotten.

Anonymous said...

I realize that flaming homosexual activist Ian McKellen (who IS a brilliant actor) doesn’t believe in Jesus, but does Opie Howard? Or any of the other actors or crew that made Da Vinci Code? Did any of them speak up? Or question it?

Or did they all have the flip attitude of, hey, it’s just a movie. Lighten up!

I wonder if they’d be so brave going up to a radical fascist Muslim, show one of the Mohammed cartoons, and say, hey, lighten up, it’s just a drawing.

Apparently Opie Howard wanted to make a movie that "took a chance" instead of middle-of-the-road "safe." Well, fine. Since he chose one that directly assaults Christianity, I await his movie versions of "The Satanic Verses" which attacks Islam, and "The Protocals of the Elders of Zion," which attacks Judaism.

--Big Mo

MG3 said...


I watched a show on the History Channel called "Digging for the Truth" the other night that totally demolished the premise behind the novel/movie. The host went to great lengths to try and verify the story and came out with nothing but falsehood and hoaxes. It was a great show, I hope they show it again.

Adjoran said...

I knew Brown was full of it from the title.

It isn't "Da Vinci;" that is a place name. The artist is Leonardo.

It's like saying Christians believe in "Of Nazereth."

BTW ~ off topic, but Hugh Hewitt mentioned you this morning here: He apparently doesn't know about this place, since he hopes "that D.J. starts up under his own name, as Lorie has, and soon."

Rich said...

What I found interesting is the following this comment from the judge in the Da Vinci Code/Holy Blood Holy Grail lawsuit:

"It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (The Da Vinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright."

McKellen wanted Bible marked as fiction. Rather, he should say Holy Blood, Holy Grail should also be marked as fiction. Because the judge in the case considered the history "pretend" Brown won the lawsuit.

A friend of mine who used to live in France noted two things:

1. People were taking copies of DVC visiting locations as if it were historical, e.g. looking for non-existent lines in churches.
2. There was a lawsuit in France where the person who supposedly "discovered" the Priory of Zion was forced to admit in open court he made it all up.

Note the following from Wikipedia's article on Pierre Plantard:

Plantard later rejected these claims during the late 1980s when he revised the mythological pedigree of the Priory of Sion, claiming it had nothing to do with the Knights Templar, that the "Dossiers Secrets" was written under the influence of LSD, and that the Priory of Sion had in fact been founded in 1681 at Rennes-le-Château by the grandfather of Marie de Negri d'Ables. This revised version of the Priory of Sion had been influenced by the opening of the "Sauniere Museum" in Rennes-le-Chateau in May 1989.

In September, 1993, Plantard claimed that Roger-Patrice Pelat had once been grandmaster of the Priory of Sion. Pelat was a friend of the then-President of France François Mitterrand and center of a scandal involving French Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy. A French court ordered a search of Plantard's home, turning up many documents, including some proclaiming Plantard the true king of France. Under oath, Plantard admitted that he had fabricated everything, including Pelat's involvement with the Priory of Sion.[1] Plantard lived in obscurity until his death on 3 February 2000 in Paris.

a4g said...

The only part of your post I take exception with is...

Basically, as Christianity began to spread and grow, there was some confusion about the person and nature of Christ Jesus.

...because you say it as if, nearly 2000 years later, anything has changed. Who were the gnostics but the Dan Brown uberauthors of their day?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ron Ballew said...

"Brown made the fundamental mistake..."

A mistake, huh? He sold FORTY MILLION copies in like 30 countries.

Some mistake. By my math it would take you about 30,000 years to get that number of readers to your blog (and you ain't makin' $25 a customer)."

Just because someone sells alot of books does not make it so. Brown simply re-hashed alot of old stuff and gave it a nice conspiracy twist.

Anonymous said...

There's the censoring deleter we all know and love! No integrity, straight to the core.

Somehow I didn't think you'd let an actual review by someone who actually saw the film stand.

Delete away, Chairman Mao!

DJ Drummond said...

I had to remove the post which contained the entire review by Roger Ebert.

I did not do this because the comment found the review favorable, but because posting an ENTIRE article in such a manner is in violation of Copyright law.

If you would like to repost, say with an HTML link to the review, and no more than a paragraph or two from the review, that would be fine. But please keep in mind your responsibility to Mr. Ebert.

Anonymous said...

"Just because someone sells alot of books does not make it so. Brown simply re-hashed alot of old stuff and gave it a nice conspiracy twist. "

Say it with me .... you can do it .... we'll do it slow .... its ... a .... novel.

A ... novel ... a work ... of .... fiction.

There. All better?

DJ Drummond said...

" a work of fiction "

Yes, and that's the point. Dan Brown starts his book with several bits he calls "fact". None of the claims actually meet that definition. Mr. Brown has repeatedly refused to correct the false claims.

The movie also treats the book as if it were a viable documentary treatment, rather than just another adventure flick.

Then again, judging by the audience response at Cannes, calling it an adventure flick misses the mark as well

Big Mo said...

last anonymous -

I'll say it real slow for you:'s...true.

And Danny Brown says his book is based on facts.

Big Mo said...

a4g - in a way, some people were a little confused about Christ, or more correctly, were being fed some false doctrine about Christ, hense part of the reason for Paul, Peter and John's various letters.

(But that's not what either you or DJ were getting at, is it?)

DJ Drummond said...

a4g, Big Mo, I'm willing to consider that some of the Gnostics were honestly trying to find out the truth, at least at first.

The problem was that the Gnostics started turning the Universal Gospel on its head, by claiming there were secrets needed to be learned, information that only the Gnostics had, and so made the Love of God into a shoddy product to be sold for money, and a power play for control of the Faith.

John F Not Kerry said...

Isn't it amazing that when someone (Mel Gibson) makes a film that is faithful to Scripture, many who have never read the Bible slam it as antisemitic and inflammatory. When a film is made of a novel that is based on Scripture and history only in that it gets the names right, TV networks fall all over themselves to "examine" the "claims" made. Why didn't they criticize Brown for being inflammatory? I haven't heard so yet.

Postmodern Pundit said...

The "it's just a movie" excuse? Right. It'd be valid if they applied it fairly across all topics, but the fact is that Hollywood and morality don't exactly mix, so the Church is always an easy target.

I'll be eagerly awaiting (til the end of time) The Da Vinci Code 2, which sheds light on Mohammad's steamy rendezvous with reformed prostitutes, and the line of their offspring in some magically insane way founding The Great Satan, the United States of America.

I wonder why he won't write that. Oh, right -- the Catholic Church boycotts; Muslims kill you.

Ron Ballew said...

dj, the gnostics made a radical seperation between the spirit and flesh, with flesh being evil. You then ended up with two types of gnostics, those who were extreme ascetics and those who were libertines since flesh is evil anyway.

This also ties in with there understanding of Christ. Since flesh is evil, Christ could not be a human only a fascimile of a human. Thus no true incarnation.

Browns book claims it is based on fact, therefore it should be judged on the historical record. It fails miserably.

tomlynk said...

Actually I was disapointed with the book and have no plan to see the movie. I bought the book because of the hype and I'm sure millions of others bought it for the same reason. As a mystery it is second rate and as a "conspiracy theory" it is unbelievable but I'm sure many will be entertained by the movie.
Just don't expect too much.